In January, to mark Epiphany, we treated ourselves to a French-style king cake (galette des rois) from Tarts de Feybesse. My husband, a teacher, was the lucky one to find the feve, or porcelain trinket, inside his slice, which is meant to be auspicious. He put on the paper crown and we all toasted his good fortune. Then the next day, he threw out his back.
Glimmers of hope followed by the screech of brakes and life on pause: This seems to sum up the new year so far. January’s supposed fresh start was instead a time of retreat to either sidestep or recover from COVID-19 and its collateral damage. So many people were affected by the omicron variant that contact tracing has become redundant, and the surge has applied stress to all kinds of breaking points — within people, businesses, systems.
Meanwhile, despite what followed, it’s not an overstatement to say that king cake was such a highlight of our month. We wish everyone their own perfect bite or sip of something truly decadent or special as we wait for real spring. Maybe a favorite take-out dish, beautiful piece of market produce, warming cocktail, deeply comforting treat or something new from one of the latest restaurants that just came to say hello. In the best kind of win-win, indulging in our area’s incomparable food and drink might help us — and a local business owner — make it through.
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SQUABISCH Long loved at the Kensington Farmers’ Market, Uli Elser’s German-style pretzels now have their own brick-and-mortar on Solano. Maybe you’ve seen the lines. Elser’s unique, freshly baked treats are based on a family recipe, and then met with playful toppings from sweet (peanut butter, marshmallow) to savory (Asiago, prosciutto). According to a 2019 Berkeleyside feature, the name “Squabisch” combines Elser’s favorite word “squab” with the German word “Schwaebisch,” which means “from Swabia,” his mother’s home region in southern Germany. Squabisch, 1585 Solano Ave. (between Tacoma and Peralta avenues), Berkeley
TASTY EXPRESS Famous Bao’s two former Berkeley properties, both dormant since 2020, are now spoken for. In December, KoStop opened in the Durant Street location; last month, the dining room on Shattuck Avenue became Tasty Express, a fast-casual Chinese buffet option for a speedy, budget-friendly lunch. The restaurant is notably pork-product free; vegan options are also available. Look for the menu on Yelp. Tasty Express, 2116 Shattuck Ave. (between Addison and Center streets), Berkeley
GANGNAM JAJANG The eatery inside the Koryo Village plaza that was Koryo Jajang for many years (see tomorrow’s Closings), has reopened under new management with a fresh energy and menu as Korean-Chinese bistro Gangnam Jajang. Gangnam Jajang’s marketing is some of the most upbeat we’ve seen this season, and their ja-jiang-myeon (noodles with pork and black bean sauce) and spicy garlic fried chicken are getting similarly enthusiastic reviews. Is it kkan-pung-gi? Is it art? We say both. We learned from WhatNowSF that the group also owns Gangnam Tofu in El Cerrito. Gangnam Jajang, 4390 Telegraph Ave. (between 43rd and 44th streets), Oakland
JUDOKU SUSHI ROCKRIDGE Judoku Sushi has moved its Rockridge operation into the former Rikyu Sushi space (see tomorrow’s Closings) at 5335 College Ave. The popular north Oakland sushi restaurant features a nice amount of outdoor dining, both at this new location and on the recently remodeled outdoor patio at its second location on Piedmont Avenue. Judoku Sushi Rockridge, 5335 College Ave. (between Clifton Street and Manila Avenue), Oakland
JOODOOBOO Steve Joo’s bastion of tofu and banchan is the new deli everyone’s talking about, and for good reason. Joo’s dooboo (the Korean word for tofu) is delicate and creamy — “pillowy,” as described by the Chronicle, which did an in-depth feature on the chef’s fresh tofu preparation. His banchan — a rotating array of prepared vegetable dishes, many of which are fermented — are seasonal, California-playful and packed with flavor. A monthly banchan and tofu subscription option sells out quickly. If you managed to score one, you did a really great job. Joodooboo, 4201 Market St. (between 42nd and 43rd), Oakland
KORNER KITCHEN & BAR This Fruitvale property has been operating for a while as a commercial kitchen and incubator for businesses such as Noodle Belly. In December, the group softly opened an outdoor cocktail bar (that showcases vendor food), and in January officially celebrated their grand opening. Word is the space fosters a collaborative community energy, and, as is well known, that kind of thing can lead to some really good food and drink. (See this profile piece from KQED’s Luke Tsai). Korner Kitchen & Bar, 1014 Fruitvale Ave. (near San Leandro Street), Oakland
KOWBIRD Matt Horn, the unstoppable, nationally acclaimed pitmaster and chef behind Horn Barbecue, has opened a fried chicken sandwich restaurant in West Oakland, and locals are collectively losing their minds over the chance to try one. Lines are long and can stretch for blocks outside the space that was formerly the Pretty Lady diner, but, as Horn himself would say, “Greatness is not a destination. It is a journey that never ends.” Behold the greatness in question (courtesy Tablehopper): Crispy chicken pieces and sandwiches, including the Hot Bird that delivers Nashville-style heat; chicken and waffles; ruby-red candy apples. This is a journey we would like to go on. Kowbird, 1733 Peralta St. (at 18th Street), Oakland
MARIGOLD INDIAN EATS Nosh loves learning news from the Temescal Telegraph Business District on that constantly-evolving neighborhood, including the long-awaited opening of this new Indian restaurant. Marigold offers korma, vindaloo, biryani and many other classic Indian favorites for meat-eaters, vegetarians and vegans, with good portions at friendly price points. A quick check on Yelp reveals that customers are thrilled so far. Marigold Indian Eats, 4868 Telegraph Ave. (between 48th and 49th streets), Oakland
RUMI KITCHEN This new Persian kitchen and bakery inside the Valero gas station near Kaiser Oakland softly opened in December, then took a little break. It reopened on January 31, and offers savory wraps, loaded combination plates and desserts, including a rice pudding we will definitely be trying soon. Delivery available. Rumi Kitchen, 3810 Broadway (at 38th Street), Oakland
SPLIT This new fast-casual spot, part of a San Francisco-based minichain from the team behind Mixt, is sure to pack plenty of crowd appeal. Menu items include big American breakfasts, salads, artisan sandwiches, a range of burgers and fried chicken sandwiches for weekday breakfast and lunch, and more to come once they start serving dinner (which they will on Feb. 12) as well as full weekend service. Split’s spacious, sunny digs are in the former dosa by Dosa at 23rd and Broadway; the Oakland location is also the first Split to serve cocktails in addition to beer and wine. Split, 2301 Broadway (at 23rd Street), Oakland
SWEET FINGERS RESTAURANT Jamaican location Sweet Fingers (named for licking one’s fingers clean after enjoying some Jamaican-style chicken) was a popular favorite in San Leandro for 12 years until a 2019 fire. It has just reopened in a beautiful new space to much fanfare in East Oakland’s Seminary Point Shopping Center. On offer: chef Clive’s jerk chicken, fried plantains, Jamaican-style fish and seafood dishes…mmmmm. Sweet Fingers, 5859 Foothill Blvd. (at Seminary Avenue), Oakland
A GIRL NAMED PINKY Cakes, cupcakes, cookies, brownies and pastries are now part of the scene at the Public Market Emeryville, thanks to the addition of this long-loved bakery, part of the La Cocina family of food entrepreneurs. But that’s not all — savory soups, salads and sandwiches, including a popular grilled cheese and Monte Cristo, are also on the new menu. Berkeley locals and students know chef Tina Stevens and her family from A Girl Named Pinky’s former stand inside UC Berkeley’s ASUC Student Union. The business has taken over the La Cocina kiosk inside the Public Market, previous home of Nyum Bai and Mama Lamees, and it seems a fantastic fit. Catering available. A Girl Named Pinky, Public Market Emeryville, 5959 Shellmound St., Emeryville
BOUGIE SMOOTHIE Emeryville’s Bay Street seems to be experiencing a little refresh, with spots such as new vegan juice and smoothie bar Bougie Smoothie from Maya Cameron-Gordon leading the charge. Try the What It Do, Honeydew: blended honeydew melon, orange, spinach, banana, vegan vanilla yogurt and mint. Vegan bowls are also on the menu. Fun fact: Cameron-Gordon helped open Vegan Mob with her husband and business partner Toriano Gordon; talk about a plant-based power couple. Bougie Smoothie, 5646 Bay St., Emeryville
CASA REVOLUCION Alameda has a festive new taqueria in Casa Revolucion, and reviews for its menu of fresh-made tacos, burritos, soups, tostadas and the like are top-notch so far. The restaurant took over the short-lived Elaine’s Chinese. Casa Revolucion Taqueria, 2522 Santa Clara Ave. (between Everett Street and Broadway), Alameda
LITA Walnut Creek’s latest has been called the hottest new restaurant in the East Bay, and they don’t just mean the Latin-Caribbean cuisine. The Miami-inspired restaurant and bar is sleek, sultry and packed, with reservations already booked through March. Lita, 1602 Bonanza St. (at Locust Street), Walnut Creek